Douglas was born in Falkirk, Scotland, in 1904, the son of Annie (née Clement) and Thomas Douglas, an iron moulder who fought in the Boer War.[ In 1910, his family immigrated to Canada, where they settled in Winnipeg. Shortly before he left Scotland, Douglas fell and injured his right knee. Osteomyelitis set in and he underwent a number of operations in Scotland in an attempt to cure the condition. Later however, in Winnipeg, the osteomyelitis flared up again and Douglas was sent to hospital. Doctors there told his parents his leg would have to be amputated. Fortunately, a well-known orthopedic surgeon took an interest in his case and agreed to treat the boy for free if his parents would allow medical students to observe. After several operations, Douglas’s leg was saved. This experience convinced him that health care should be free to all. “I felt that no boy should have to depend either for his leg or his life upon the ability of his parents to raise enough money to bring a first-class surgeon to his bedside”, Douglas said in an interview.
During World War I, the family returned to Glasgow. They came back to Winnipeg in 1919, in time for Douglas to witness the Winnipeg General Strike. From a rooftop vantage point on Main Street, he witnessed the police charging the strikers with clubs and guns, a streetcar being overturned and set on fire. He also witnessed the Royal Canadian Mounted Police shoot and kill one of the workers.
At the age of fifteen, Douglas began an amateur career in boxing. Weighing 135 pounds, Douglas fought in 1922 for the Lightweight Championship of Manitoba; and after a six round fight won the title. Douglas sustained a broken nose, a loss of some teeth, and a strained hand and thumb. Douglas successfully held the title the following year.
In 1930 Douglas married Irma Dempsey, a music student at Brandon College. They had one daughter, actress Shirley Douglas, and they later adopted a second daughter Joan, who became a nurse. His son and grandson are the actors Donald and Kiefer Sutherland
Two months after Douglas graduated from Brandon College, he married Irma Dempsey and the two moved to the small town of Weyburn, Saskatchewan, where he became an ordained minister at the Calvary Baptist Church. Irma was 19, while Douglas was With the onset of the Depression, Douglas became a social activist in Weyburn, and joined the new Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) organization. He was elected to the Canadian House of Commons in the 1935 federal election.
Douglas is widely hailed as the father of Medicare, and took the opportunity to take his cause to the federal stage. Thus, in 1961, he retired from his position as Saskatchewan’s premier and turned over this job Woodrow Lloyd, taking leadership of the federal New Democratic Party. Our sister party. (American Labor Party)
Douglas was voted “The Greatest Canadian” of all time in a nationally televised contest organized by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in 2004.
Douglas Provincial Park near Saskatchewan’s Lake Diefenbaker and Qu’Appelle River Dam was named after him. A statue of him, created by Lea Vivot, was erected in his hometown of Weyburn in October 2010.
In the two CBC Television mini-series about Pierre Trudeau, Trudeau and Trudeau II: Maverick in the Making, Douglas is portrayed by Eric Peterson. In the biography mini-series, Prairie Giant: The Tommy Douglas Story, which aired on 12 and 13 March 2006, also on CBC, Douglas was played by Michael Therriault. The movie was widely derided by critics as being historically inaccurate. Particularly, the movie’s portrayal of James Gardiner, premier of Saskatchewan from the late 1920s to mid-1930s, was objected to by political historians and the Gardiner family itself. In response, the CBC consulted a “third party historian” to review the film and pulled it from future broadcasts, including halting all home and educational sales. Prairie Giant was shown in Asia on the Hallmark Channel on 11 and 12 June 2007.
Douglas received honorary degrees from several universities, including:
University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan (LL.D) in 1962
McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario (LL.D) in May 1969
Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario (LL.D) on 27 May 1972
University of Regina in Regina, Saskatchewan in 1978
Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario in 1980
University of British Columbia in Vancouver, British Columbia 27 May 1981
Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario (LL.D) in 1983